Counterconditioning for Toenail Trim Aggression

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This dog doesn’t like having his toenail trimmed.

We’ll take a few minutes to counter condition him. First, I give him treat while handling him in order to change his emotional state. The assistant should wait until the dog is occupied with eating before she starts handling then stop handling before the dog finishes the treat. This time the dog is focused on the food the entire time he’s being handled, which lessen the likelihood that he will bite the handler. Notice our timing is off the first several times and then we got our team work down better. Our goal is to keep the handling at the right level so the dog doesn’t seem to notice that he’s being handled. After repeating one step a number of times, move to the next step. In this case, the next step is that my assistant taps his foot with a clipper. In between bouts, wait long enough so the dog understands that handling equal treats and no handling equal no treats. He should be looking expectantly at you for more treats. The assistant now puts the clipper over the nail without clipping. And, finally, she clips his nails while he’s getting a treat. This dog doesn’t even seem to notice. He’s having a good experience so the next time he’ll be even better. This entire process only took 4 minutes.

This technique works for cats, too.

And, it’s something you can easily train clients to do.

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7 responses to “Counterconditioning for Toenail Trim Aggression

  1. Cannot share this, and I’d like to. When I Click on Like, I get a red error message in the like box.

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  3. I am a CVT and I have done some minor behavioral work in the past, but I have a Shar Pei mix that is not aggressive, but very fearful of getting her nails trimmed. She is about 5 years old and I have had her since she was about 6 months old. She is a rescue and has always been very fearful of having her nails done. I have attempted something similar to this on numerous occasions with my girlfriend who is also a CVT, to no avail. Sadly, we have had to resort to acepromazine or alprazolam in order to get her nails trimmed. What guidance would you offer to get her past this point? She seems to even be stressed out when I cut my nails. I have even gone to using an emery board with some minor success, but still great difficulty.

  4. I’d love to see something like this with a LARGE dog, I have a 100lb Ridgeback that struggles like mad, I have a bad back and just can’t get her nails done (she was fine until she tore a nail off at 5 months old). She chews her nails down, but I’d much rather get them trimmed as they’re still a little long for my liking.

    1. I raise and rescue giant breed dogs ( and we do something like this to help the rescues deal with nail trimming. It can take a bit of time but it works.

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